The terrific and often overlooked zombie survival game State of Decay has got a new version out today on PC and Xbox One. If you missed it the first time around, it's worth checking out.
State of Decay is a third-person open-world zombie survival game. (I know, right? What a concept!) There's been a zombie outbreak, and it's your job to lead a group of survivors as they attempt to defend their home base and survive, all while keeping morale high enough that everyone stays unified. It's got a little bit of Left 4 Dead, a little bit of The Last of Us, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to the popular multiplayer zombie game DayZ, though State of Decay is a singleplayer-only, offline game.
It first came out in 2013 for Xbox 360 and PC. I played the PC version and it quickly became one of my favourite games of that year. Its mix of resource management and risk assessment really struck a chord with me, and I loved how the game approached its story and cast. You don't play as one character; you play as any of several, hopping from person to person as you set out into the wilderness to gather supplies and aid new potential allies. Which means, of course, that if any of your characters die, they're dead for good.
The new version coming out this week is called the Year One Survival Edition, and it features improved graphics, tweaked gameplay, and both the Breakdown and Lifeline DLC expansions. My time with the DLC is pretty limited, since I've found the main game more than deep and interesting enough to keep my focus. Breakdown is basically an open-world hardcore mode set on the main game's map, and Lifeline is a standalone military-themed expansion that seems fine but hasn't drawn me in in quite the same way as the main game did.
Year One Survival Edition was also advertised as having better graphics and performance than the original. Now that it's on Xbox One, I went in hopeful that it'd remedy some of State of Decay's notorious technical crustiness. Unfortunately, the new version doesn't really fix much. Actually, it kind of doesn't "fix" anything. The textures are higher resolution, there are a few minor tweaks to animations and controls, but the game itself is as janky and weird as always. That's particularly true on Xbox One, where some extreme, regular frame-rate drops had me scratching my head over how something that still basically looks like an Xbox 360 game could run so poorly on a new-gen console.
It runs much better on PC — if you're choosing between the two versions, go PC all the way — and the new version does look sharper than the original, but it's really just not a pretty game. But. It's still a good game! In fact, State of Decay may be one of the best arguments that lousy technical performance can't fully derail things if the core game is good enough.
The opening hours of State of Decaycan be very difficult, and if you don't know what to do, it's possible to get stuck in a failure loop and be forced to start over from scratch. I've been urging my Kotaku colleagues to finally try the game out, and have found myself giving each of them the same few tips. I figured I'd share those tips here, for anyone thinking about giving the new version a shot.
Here we go:
1. Upgrade Your Base ASAP
After you leave the introductory area, you'll find yourself reporting back to the game's first proper base, a church outside of the first small neighbourhood. It can be really easy to start heading out into the world to undertake missions without pausing to see what you can do at your home base. That would be a mistake.
Open up the game's notebook and tab over to the base tab — you'll see that you can start various projects at your base, and begin to build new upgrades almost immediately.
Get your base 'working' on an upgrade for one of the empty areas as soon as possible; it's never a bad idea to build a workshop, for instance. You can also have your radio operator look for survivors or find specific types of supplies, and while you probably won't need to do that in the early goings, it's always good to have her doing something or other.
2. Cars Are Your Best Friend
Cars are deadly in State of Decay. You can easily clear out an infested house or a roaming hoard of zombies, particularly if you use your door-slam move as often as possible. If you want to explore a house for supplies, first park outside it and run over zombies as they come toward you. If you need to clear out an infestation, do the same thing — park out front, honk your horn, and take out the zombies as they come out. Wait for the screamers that hang out in infested houses, too; they will eventually come out, or at the very least creep up to within range of your firearm.
As you upgrade your base, you can start to leave damaged cars outside overnight in designated parking spots and they will be repaired overnight. As long as you build up a steady rotation of cars, you'll never really run out, and the game's more difficult challenges will become much more manageable.
3. Scout Close To Home
Don't roam too far from home in the early goings. There are a ton of houses and construction sites that you can loot for supplies, all without going more than a block in any direction. The houses down the hill and toward town have a good supplies and weapons, so be sure to clear them out in between trips to rescue survivors or undertake early story missions. You'll be able to get more than enough supplies, and will always be able to leg it back to base, should you need to.
4. Pick Your Battles
State of Decay is first and foremost a survival game. That means your primary goal in any given situation should be getting out alive. Killing zombies costs you ammunition, silencer uses, and causes damage to your car. It can be tough to get yourself into the mindset that State of Decay requires… at least, without losing a few valuable characters along the way. Basically: Never go into a house full of zombies, always make sure you've got a way out of a house you're entering, and always make note of nearby cars in case you need to make a hasty getaway. Pick your battles; it's easy for a seasoned character to get overwhelmed and be unceremoniously killed, and there's no shame in retreating.
5. Don't Die
An obvious tip, but still a crucial one: Don't die. You can die in State of Decay, and you'll almost certainly lose few characters as you play. But you should avoid death if at all possible. Losing a character means losing everything he or she was carrying (unless you take the time to go recover it) as well as any levels he or she had gained. Your community will also take a hit to its morale, and low morale can be just as deadly as a zombie attack.
If you lose too many good characters, it's possible to find yourself playing as a single greenhorn, without enough influence to buy the gear you need. You'll be unable to raise group morale without taking dumb risks, which makes it all the more likely that your new main character will also die.
So: Play it safe, let your chosen characters level up and stay alive, and over time you'll stack things the other way — you'll have a whole bunch of viable characters, a lot of stored influence, weapons and vehicles, and you'll have enough momentum that you can survive a setback or two without entering a negative spiral.
Those are my five super-basic tips for anyone starting out. If you pay attention to your journal, read what items do and experiment with using them, you'll probably be able to work the rest of it out for yourself.
This game has enough going on that I'd say you can browse the State of Decay wiki without spoiling too much; it's nice that there's already an established knowledge base out there. If any of you have tips of your own (and I'm sure that you do!), I hope you'll share them below.